Tuesday, April 3, 2012

NES Golf Tour: Greg Norman's Golf Power

Another game bearing the name of a golfing great.  For anyone not familiar, Greg Norman was the guy in the 80's that had the incredible drive.  Everyone wanted to swing the woods like Norman.  Known as "the Shark," Norman was famous for taking risky shots and his golf career lived and died by that reputation.  He missed the Green Jacket in 1986 and 1987 on the back of two bad breaks.  However, his aggressive style won him a couple of Open Championships and a spot in the World Golf Hall of Fame.  It apparently also landed him a video game for the NES.

Much like his playing style, his game, Greg Norman's Golf Power, asks you to drive the ball outrageous distances, take extremely gutsy shots, and be just a bit luckier than your average golfer.  Aptly named, this game is all about long drives, long second shots and many, many risk/reward holes.  Greg Norman's Golf Power indeed.  Here is the breakdown:

Course Design:  Terrible and Unrealistic.  Seriously.  I have never ever heard of a golf course designed by adults that ever features 16 par 5's and two par 4's.  It does not exist.  It does not happen.  The standard golf course is 18 holes generally resulting in a par score of 72.  The average course in GNGP comes in with a par score of 85.  85!!  It's madness.  Where is the balance?  Where is the breather par 3 hole that gives you a chance to relax from the constant one wood off the tee?  I get it, the game is Golf POWER and Norman was know for his long drives, but this is also meant to be a golf simulation game, not just a driving range.  The end result is a very LONG game play experience and very frustrating scores.  The Australia course does feature one par 3 hole, it is 331 yards long! Furthermore, the variety in the hole design is stagnant.  There seem to be two kinds of holes. First, there is the long drive to a narrow fairway, usually with a hazard, often a tree, near the landing zone.  Second is the drive short of the water with a high iron or the risk it all with the one Wood and try to clear the water hazard.  The hole of the second variety is plentiful and annoying.  Since there are no par 3's and very few par 4's you are pretty much always going to be swinging your one wood off the tee and in the fairway with your second shot.  Boring.  You are also going to be spending a lot of time taking drops or penalty strokes from the bountiful water hazards.  There just isn't much variety in the hole designs and the overabundance of par 5's severely limits the game's options for creative course design.  Snore.
Get used to seeing this

Green Design:  If you think the course design is boring, wait until you make it to the green.  With about 6 distinct and set break patterns and every green being a large square, it is clearly evident that the putting game was an afterthought in GNGP.  The hole is always dead center of the green and the size is always the same.  If you can make it to the green, you are pretty much assured a one-putt to the hole.  As with the lack of variety in hole creation, there is a major deficit in creativity on the greens.
Can you create a topographical map of this green?

Shot Set-Up Interface:  Pretty standard stuff here.  You get a top-down look and a third person look.  Both are fairly accurate and are consistent with each other.  The top down is your best bet for planning your shot, but as the tree height can vary, you'll also want to check the third person to make sure as your shot may be clear.  You can trust your shot is being set up safely.  While there are no distance indicators in the field, this game is all about the long game so there is little need for judging distances.  Just swing for the fences and hope for the best.  After a few miscues, you'll learn how to judge the shorter shots.  The one major drawback in the set-up interface is that you are not allowed to turn your third person view beyond the existing window.  This greatly limits your choice of where to hit as the third person view always points toward the green and your shot doesn't always want to go that way.  This mandates some hooks and slices depending on where you want to land the ball.

Swing Interface: Again, pretty standard with a single, interesting difference.   Instead of hitting A to start the swing and then A again to determine the power, in GNGP you hold the A button to start the swing and release it to set the power, then press A again to determine the accuracy.  This takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it is actually much easier than the standard interface we all know and love.  The downswing speed increases as you approach the accuracy target, but hitting an accurate shot is not terribly difficult. Likewise, negotiating a hook or slice is pretty simple as well.  Hooks and slices are fairly mild and manageable.


Putting Interface:  Also standard, to the point of being too easy.  With the uninspired green design, it is no surprise that the putting interface is simplistic to the point of being automatic.  Since the greens are all square and relatively small, you will never need more than half of the putting meter's power to reach the hole.  Don't worry about distances, just trust your instincts and putt.  You are not allowed the option of using the putter unless you are on the green, so no putting from the fairway.
If you can make it to the green, the rest is cake.  Nice pants, dude.

Auto-Caddy: Unreliable.  I'm not really sure why you need an auto-caddy in this game anyway as 75% of your shots will be taken with the one Wood, but when a shot does call for a different club, the caddy will usually give you a club that about two clubs stronger than the one you need.  Unless, you land in the rough.  No matter where you are on the course, or what your good golf instincts tell you, the game all but forces you to use an eight Iron.  Oh sure, you can try to use a higher club, but you stand a good chance of shanking or flubbing your shot, which will lead to a fit of rage.  I promise.  Just take the damn short shot with the 8 Iron and get back into the fairway so you can use your woods again.  Apart from that, use your best instincts and remember that at max power you are going to get +20 on each club's maximum distance.  Ignore the caddy and you'll be fine.
If a real caddy told you this, you would beat him, if for no other reason than the atrocious grammar.

Spin Control:  During your shot set-up the game allows you to add forward and backward spin to the ball.  The actual influence of this is minimal and the backspin will only slow your ball a little on the green.  It will stop it dead anywhere else.  You do not get a lot of run from the forward spin.

Wind Influence:  None.  At least none on the Sunny weather setting.  When you change the weather to inclement conditions you will see some influence, but the overall effect is minimal.

Break Influence:  Again, minimal.  This is a game about power, not finesse.  Unless your ball touches a break arrow during its path to the cup you might not see any break influence at all.  That said, always hedge your putts against the break in the event that it plays a factor.  Important note:  when putting from the green edge, there seems to be an invisible barrier that will repel your ball back toward the fairway unless you add extra power.  Not sure if this is truly a "break," but it sucks so watch out.

Chip-In Possible?  Not that I have ever seen.  I have hit the ball perfectly from the fairway, watched it hit the graphic representing the hole and then roll right on by.  I am going to say that chip-ins are not available in this game.

Hole-In-One Possible?  When would you get the chance?  With every hole a par 5, if you can score an ace, you call me.
Which hole did you ace?  Was it the 580yd par 5 or maybe the 550yd par 5, wait which 550yd par 5?

Learning Curve: 4. I wanted to say it was much higher, but when you get right down to it, the interfaces are simple and straightforward, the putting is easy and once you realize that almost every hole follows the formula, "hit as far as you can twice, find green and putt," there really isn't that much to learn about playing this game.  The biggest part of the learning curve is just reconciling that you are not playing real golf.

Whistles and Bells:  Now we get to where the game shines.  This game is all whistles and bells and very little else.  I'm not necessarily talking about the 10 different (although not so different) courses the game offers, or the ability to set weather conditions, save your round, or even the four player game play.  The most significant feature this game has to offer is also the one that makes the game playable and enjoyable: the course designer.  That's right, it is almost as if the people at Virgin Games knew that their base game was weak, so they decided to pack in a pretty sweet little game editor as an apology.
The course designer feature is your chance to right the wrongs of GNGP and create a real golf course to play.  The designer will take a bit of time to get used to, particularly when trying to figure out how to create holes of different lengths, but pay attention to the instruction manual and soon you'll be designing courses with the best of them.  I used the designer to create a standard par 72 course that was a lot of fun to play and had far more variety than anything the game presented me with.  I also had a lot of fun creating the course.  This feature almost saves the game.  If the rest of the game play mechanics had been more than just standard this would have been the coolest "create your own golf game" game out there.  As it stands, the designer just barely saves this game from being the absolute pits.

Overall Score: 3  And it gets that score on the back of the designer alone.  You really can build your own golf game and have a great time doing it.  If you pick up Greg Norman's Golf Power and play the base game, you are going to be pretty dissatisfied.  I will plug this game in from time to time and create a new course and play it for a while against the computer golfers, but after a few rounds, Greg Norman's Golf Power goes back on the shelf.
You said it, game.

Tips from the Club Pro:
  • Trees are set up in even rows.  Thus you can hit a lot of shots between the trees and the collision detection is very generous so you can risk it when it looks clear.
  • If you are new to the game and want a fair chance to get acquainted play the French course a few times.  It has the most reasonable hole layouts and the water hazards are minimal comparatively.
  • There is no major penalty for hitting out of the rough, but as mentioned above, the game will restrict you to an eight iron, so if you need a long shot, take a whack.  I have had mixed results with trying other clubs.  Irons seem the most effective, particularly those around the 8 Iron.
  • Remember, at maximum power your club will get +20 yards over their stated distance.
  •  Unless you are putting from the green edge, you will never need to use more than half the power on the putting gauge.
Club Pro's Best Rounds:
Course: Spain
Date:  3.25.12          Score: Even

Course: Germany
Date: 3.25.12           Score: +6

Course: France
Date: 3.25.12          Score:  -3

Course: Japan
Date: 3.24.12           Score: +14

Course: Australia
Date: 3.23.12          Score: +10

Course: Hawaii
Date: 3.22.12          Score: +6

I have listed my best scores above, I have done dismally on the others.  On my personal course, I shot a +4.
His game may not be a winner, but when you show up to the course in THIS vehicle, you are automatically, the coolest golfer in the clubhouse!


Come back next time when we'll take a look at Nintendo's first golf offering, the aptly named Golf.

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